Emerson Pullman: Watching

Emerson Pullman

Artwork’s Title: Watching
Material Used: Oil on Linen
Studio Based: London, UK
Emerson Pullman, ‘Watching’, Oil on linen, 230 x 190 cm

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

There’s no specific way in which I plan about making a painting. It may start with an idea for a composition, colour palette. I paint people that I know, and I paint from photographs that I have taken of them in their own environments. Knowing the sitter and taking the photographs myself is important because a lot of the work is quite reactive and improvised so it means I can rely on my memory and have more confidence when painting of the occasion. A lot of the process involves creating the right atmosphere and conditions in order to paint without too much active thought or doubt, this is usually helped along by drinking strong coffee and listening to something heavy.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

Chaotic, considered, quiet.

Could you share with us some insights on your ‘Watching’? Is there any particular story behind this new painting?

The painting ‘Watching’ was made for my degree show in September and is the biggest work I have made to date, it depicts two figures sitting on the sofa looking into the distance with a large clock looming above. The two figures aren’t named in the work and in a sense it isn’t a portrait of the specific sitters but acts more as a framework or a vehicle to hold ideas and deeper meanings of time, memory, fragility and mortality. In this work I have purposefully left out a lot of context, leaving the viewer to create their own narrative – for example it is not mentioned the relationship of the two figures, nor any identifier to their location apart from the loose outline of the sofa. I see it as as almost a sequel to a work I made last year called ‘Here and Now (With the Passing of Time)’, with the work partially being about my own ever changing relationship with time.

It looks evident that you are very keen on portraiture; Is it like a current painting series that you try to concentrate on this period or different kind of styles and motifs interest you as well?

I think my work changed considerably after moving down to London and starting an MA at City & Guilds two years ago. They became more interested in placing the figure into a context instead of cropping the composition to the head and shoulders. This allowed me to incorporate different symbols and motifs, including items of clothing, stripes and patterns of blankets, pillows and other materials and using watches and clocks as a reference to ideas of time, memory and mortality.

Looking at your paintings, ordinary men and women dominate your imagery in which they tend to have quite calm, frozen or even slightly apathetic facial expressions. Why do you choose this kind of depictions?

I currently choose these kind of depictions because I am painting the reality I am living in at this moment. After moving down from North Wales and finding a house share the first painting I made in London was of my new flatmate and his girlfriend watching TV on the sofa. Something about these relatable mundane ‘in-between’ moments and finding new ways to depict them in painting was interesting to me. I am also conforming to the idea that portraits should be a resting expression and in my particular work, not visibly aware of the viewer.

Where do you draw inspiration in order to build up your distinctive portraiture on canvas? Are they related to personal memories or are they closer to your imagination as an artist?

I think they are somewhere between reality and imagination. I like using the figure as framework in order to carry out material ideas, opacity of paints, ways of using the brush to create interesting marks and colour palettes whilst also resulting in a relatable image resembling the real world. I think this important and why I occasionally things like brand logos, because when the image becomes more abstract they tie or ground the image to the present day reality. For me, it’s always a balance of how far I push the imagination vs the reality of life. In actually think having the memory of the occasion I am painting actually helps me then trust my imagination more.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

Philip Gustons abstract work had a huge impact on the way I use colour, seeing a Larry Rivers painting when I was a kid in the National Portrait Gallery was a massive influence in the way I think about painting. I also am inspired by more recent work by Elizabeth Peyton, Ryan Mosley, Jennifer Packer and Doron Langberg.

Do you wonder if additional work was needed, when an artwork’s making process is finished?

I can’t remember who said to me that you know when a painting is finished long after you have passed that stage, but I think I can relate to that a lot. I think over the years I have developed an understanding when my works are best left alone – this can mean putting a work away for a couple of weeks to not ruin it in the moment. It takes no time to overwork the best bits in a painting that can almost happen by mistake, I have learnt from experience!

What about the place where you work? What’s your studio space look like?

I have been working in a studio in South Wimbledon but it had no natural light, which meant using daylight lamps and having to bring the painting out into the corridor to check that I’m getting seeing the colour right. One plus about having no windows meant I did have more wall space which meant I could see how the paintings operated as body of work which came in handy for the preparation for my solo show at Cromwell Place with New Normal Projects this summer. I actually moved into a new studio down the corridor that has loads of natural light and two big windows last week, so having a studio with none for the last year has made me extremely appreciative.

Which are your plans for the near future?

I have started working on a new body of work in my new studio and have also been selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries which opens later this month in Blackpool before moving down to the Camden Art Centre at the beginning of next year. I am looking forward to a trip back up north for the opening!

Emerson Pullman, ‘M.A’, Oil on linen, 76 x 61 cm
Emerson Pullman, ‘Half Light’, Oil on linen, 80 x 60 cm
Emerson Pullman, Installation Image, ‘Where do you we go from here?’, 2023, @newnormalprojects
Emerson Pullman, ‘AFK’, Oil on linen, 120 x 90 cm


All images courtesy of the artist

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